Cities throughout the world are waking up to the fact that cars are one less thing they could be worrying about – Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, Oslo, Madrid, Chengdu, Hamburg, Paris, London, Mexico City (and plenty more) all have plans to either ban cars, or at least minimise the use of them.
But is that a practical solution? Can we just ban cars and be done with it? Some cities are trialling it, but the problem is that it’s either an odd day here and there, or a temporary study to see what effect it may have. Neither of those options takes into account the longer-term, aside from health benefits.
It’s all very well proclaiming ‘30% less pollution’ but if the city centre shuts down because people can’t easily get there, what happens then? We have no magic answers, but we can give you some pros and cons to think about.
Financial perspective (local)
Money could be saved by reducing infrastructure needed for cars, less road maintenance cost, perhaps fewer officials to monitor parking, but we could also see growth or regeneration – car parks could be changed to shops or office accommodation, which in turn could generate revenue for the city.
UK councils (between them) made a profit of over £750m from parking charges (and yes, profit – after running costs and overhead) last year, even just averaging that figure out to all 418 councils, that’s still nearly £1.8m each.
Financial perspective (national)
Less pollution could potentially mean less drain on the NHS with fewer cases of such illness as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), we could also see a boost in revenue with public transport, although for the main part, that’s franchised out to private companies, so it would be through the taxes they pay on their profit.
The government receives around £34bn (yes, thirty-four billion) each year through fuel duty (£28 bn) and VED (£6bn). A slight change in drivers giving up their car could make a huge impact to that figure; a 5% change could see the government losing £1.7bn.
What car ban may mean for local businesses
With so many businesses having a ‘digital presence’, there is less reliance on footfall and traffic. One advantage of having a pedestrianised city centre would be that it gives shoppers a greater chance to browse window displays, they can get closer and really see what’s on offer. It could potentially increase sales.
We as a society have adapted to relying on cars to get where we need, and to carry home any purchases. It’s entirely possible that shoppers could move away from the city centre, preferring instead to shop at an out-of-town retail park, leading to shops and businesses closing down; we’ve seen many instances of roads being closed for numerous reasons, and shops sited on that road cite a lack of business for closing down.
Transportation around the city
A city without cars would have to invest heavily in public transport, which could lead to mass transit actually being viable for more than the small percentage that rely on it now, although there is a caveat; many councils are struggling to fund all but the most essential services, so without funding (of which they’d lose all parking charges), there would need to be an ‘Invest to Save’ scheme in place.
In a similar vein to business, we rely on our cars, our society has been taught that everything has been made easier with a car. What happens if you visit a furniture store for example? Or if the nearest bus stop is a mile away? How would those with limited mobility cope?
The whole basis of the argument
No one is going to try and persuade you that cars are anything but pollution machines; diesels in particular are coming under increasing pressure due to the nature of the pollutant from the exhaust, we know that fossil-fuelled cars are harmful to the environment and our health.
However, can society function without its current reliance on cars? There are some car-friendly cities in the UK, but times are changing, and that means our reliance on personal transport will have to change with them.
Electric vehicles are coming on stream, but are still some way off from being a mass market product, and eco-driving is something that needs to be learnt. Just how realistic would a ban on cars be?
If it happened today, it’s entirely possible that the negatives would outweigh the positives, but it isn’t happening today – even those cities with firm plans in place are some way off from implementing them, so with a little education, it could work.